Skip to main content

MNCs GM, Ford knew in 1960s car emission caused climate change, delayed action

Top auto giants General Motors (FM) and Ford knew way back in 1960s about looming climate crisis, but helped bury reality. This was quite like the major oil and gas companies, which “took a calculated risk that they – and the world – could delay action to address the drivers of climate change. We are all paying for that gamble", argues Jessica Corbett in Common Dreams. Exerpts:
*** 
"Another cog in the climate denial machine rattles loose", so said Harvard University climate denial researcher Geoffrey Supran in response to a groundbreaking investigative report published Monday by E&E News revealing that scientists at auto giants General Motors and Ford Motor Co. "knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change."
Those discoveries, notes E&E News reporter Maxine Joselow, "preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling U.S. efforts to make vehicles cleaner."
Supran is co-director of the Climate Social Science Network and a research associate in Harvard's Department of the History of Science. He investigates the history of climate politics—particularly the communications, denial, and delay tactics of fossil fuel interests—alongside professor Naomi Oreskes, who also highlighted the revelations.
"From fossil fuel companies, to car manufacturers and utilities, we know it's not only Exxon that knew about the climate crisis decades ago," Lindsay Meiman of 350.org told Common Dreams on Monday, referencing previous reporting on climate research conducted and concealed for decades by oil giant ExxonMobil.
"Now, with climate disasters at our doorsteps, it's Black, Indigenous, and communities of color who bear the costs of these lies," Meiman added. "The silver lining: we know exactly who is responsible for the climate crisis. It's up to all of us to hold polluters and billionaires accountable for their deception and destruction."
Joselow's exposé is based on nearly five months of reporting as well as documents on GM from the General Motors Heritage Center and Wayne State University in Detroit, documents on Ford's climate research unearthed by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), and additional materials on both manufacturers provided by the Climate Investigations Centers.
According to E&E News:
"Researchers at both automakers found strong evidence in the 1960s and '70s that human activity was warming the Earth. A primary culprit was the burning of fossil fuels, which released large quantities of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide that could trigger melting of polar ice sheets and other dire consequences.
"A GM scientist presented her findings to at least three high-level executives at the company, including a former chairman and CEO. It's unclear whether similar warnings reached the top brass at Ford.
"But in the following decades, both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming."
 
While spokespeople for each company responded to the revelations by recognizing the reality of human-caused climate change and detailing to E&E News their respective efforts to reduce emissions by increasing production of electric vehicles, climate action advocates were outraged.
"It's jaw-dropping," Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media and co-founder of 350.org, told Common Dreams. "GM and Ford not only knew their cars were fueling the climate crisis, but anytime a political effort came together to address the emergency, they helped steer it into a ditch. Think of the millions of premature deaths from air pollution that could have been prevented if the world's largest automakers had committed to go all-electric back in the 1970s."
"This reporting drags the automakers back into the center of the climate fight," added Henn. "It puts immense pressure on them to support any new climate legislation or regulations, especially around electric vehicles and auto emissions. I think it also raises the question of whether GM and Ford should be included in future climate liability lawsuits."
Henn explained that unlike the major fossil fuel companies, who he called "irredeemable polluters," big auto companies like Ford and GM now have a choice to make. "They can get swept away with the likes of Exxon and Chevron or embrace a clean energy future by going all-electric and supporting mass transit," he said. "Activists will be working hard to make sure it's the latter."
In a statement, CIEL president Carroll Muffett said the investigation "demonstrates auto companies were aware of emerging climate science and on notice of potential climate risks decades earlier than was previously recognized." The group also detailed key takeaways from the reporting:
  • In a 1956 letter, Ford scientist Gilbert Plass rejected the idea that excess warming from burning fossil fuels poses "little danger to the Earth," observing that burning known reserves of fossil fuels would raise global temperatures by 7⁰C.
  • In multiple articles written while at Ford, Plass detailed the science linking fossil fuel combustion to the planetary "greenhouse effect.”" 
  • Ford continued an active program of climate-relevant research into the 1970s and beyond. 
  • General Motors employed its own climate scientists from the early 1970s, with a research focus on establishing competing theories of global warming. 
  • In testimony to Congress in 1967, a Ford executive argued against federal investments in electric vehicle research, arguing that industry was actively developing EV technology and would be ready to bring electric cars to market within a decade. 
"Like the oil industry, leading car companies had early notice that the carbon dioxide emitted by their automotive products posed potential risks for the climate at a planetary scale," said Muffett. "Ford and GM had both the opportunity and the responsibility to design products that would reduce emissions, and warn the public of risks that couldn't be eliminated. Instead, they spent decades denying climate science and obstructing climate action."
In other words, Muffett added, "like the major oil and gas companies, leading car companies took a calculated risk that they—and the world—could delay action to address the drivers of climate change. We are all paying for that gamble."

Comments

TRENDING

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Misleading ads 'manipulate, seduce, lure' to market unhealthy harmful food

By Our Representative  The Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPI) in its new report “50 Shades of Food Advertising” has sought to expose how seductive, luring, manipulative or deceptive these advertisements can be. Consequences of such advertising are increased intake of unhealthy food products that is associated with obesity and diabetes, it says. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Why's Govt of India reluctant to consider battery storage system for renewal energy?

By Shankar Sharma*  If having so many small size battery energy storage system (BESS) at different locations of the grid, as in the report from Australia (a portfolio of 27 small battery storage projects across three Australian states that will total arounds 270 MWh), is considered to be techno-economically attractive in a commercially driven market such as Australia, the question that becomes a lot more relevance to Indian scenario is: why are our planners not in favour of installing such small size BESS at most of the distribution sub-stations not only to accelerate the addition of RE power capacities, but also to minimise the need for large size solar/ wind power parks, dedicated transmission lines and pumped storage plants; which will also minimise the associated technical losses.

'Failure of governance': India, China account for 54% pollution-related deaths globally

By Vikas Parsaram Meshram*   A recent report jointly prepared by UNICEF and the independent research organization Health Effects Institute has been released, and the statistics within it are alarming. It states that in 2021, air pollution caused the deaths of 2.1 million Indians, including 169,000 children who hadn't yet fully experienced life. These figures are indeed distressing and raise questions about why there hasn't been more serious effort in this direction, putting policymakers to shame. 

New MVA-INDIA MPs asked to raise Maharashtra milk farmers' demand

By Our Representative  All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) national president Dr Ashok Dhawale and AIKS Maharashtra general secretary Dr Ajit Nawale have asked three newly-elected MPs of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA-INDIA) from the milk belt of Maharashtra Dr Amol Kolhe (NCP),  Bhausaheb Wakchaure (SS), and Nilesh Lanke (NCP), to take up the cause of milk farmers of Maharashtra in Parliament.  After congratulating them on their resounding victory over their BJP-NDA rivals, the AIKS leaders apprised them of the milk farmers struggle which is intensifying in the state under the leadership of the AIKS and the Milk Farmers Joint Struggle Committee, and requested them to support it. All three MPs agreed not only to support, but also to take the initiative in this struggle, an official AIKS communique claimed. Farmers in Maharashtra are currently getting as low as Rs 24-27 per litre for cow milk, which is being sold in the market for Rs 56-60 per litre, the AIKS leaders noted. The low price to farmer